I don’t normally try to write tributes or death notices or articles about someone’s passing (you're about to find out why with this drivel), but I woke to the news of Amy Winehouse’s passing and found myself in the odd position of wanting to say...something.
Winehouse, 27, was found dead at her London home. To say she was troubled would be an understatement.
She was born in north of London to a Jewish family and cultivated an early interest in jazz music. When Amy was ten, she had a rap group called Sweet ‘n Sour. A few years later, she was booted from the Susi Earnshaw Theatre School for piercing her nose and, presumably, for not being the greatest of students. Yet in there somewhere lurked this fucking amazing voice.
Winehouse started to explore the world of jazz and record labels and contracts early on, signing to Simon Fuller’s 19 Management in 2002. Frank, her debut album, came out in 2003 and featured material that was, apart from a pair of covers, written by Amy. It went platinum.
For many, it was her 2006 record Back to Black that drew her artistic fame. Featuring emotional numbers like “Back to Black,” “Tears Dry on Their Own,” and “Love Is a Losing Game,” the album went on to win five Grammy awards.
But as the spotlight grew on Miss Winehouse, the beehived and tattooed singer struggled with her personal life. The media, as usual, was all too happy to provide cameras and lights for every fragment and failure. Winehouse’s relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, a former video production assistant, was rough. Amy admitted that she could be violent toward him when drinking and, in 2007, photogs snagged them in the London streets bloodied up after a fight.
Fielder-Civil said he introduced Winehouse to heroin and crack cocaine. Amy admitted to having trouble with self-harm, eating disorders, depression, you name it. She cancelled shows or showed up to gigs in no condition to perform, often stumbling through sets forgetting words and so forth. Clips of the gigs circulated on YouTube and beyond.
In July of 2009, however, an extended stay in St. Lucia was said to have helped her. Winehouse returned “refreshed by island life,” going through divorce proceedings with Fielder-Civil and developing music for a new record.
Yet that new record never came and clips of broken-down performances kept sweeping in. The refreshment granted by island life apparently didn’t take. Most recently, Amy arrived late and stumbled through a gig in Belgrade just a few months ago. It was apparently “the worst in the city’s history.” She cancelled a slew of European dates.
So it goes.
For many, a combination of tabloid reports and YouTube clips will be the only way they “know” Amy Winehouse. Because of a combination of issues, the soul singer never had many performances in North America. News of her passing, splayed all over sites like TMZ, is greeted with the usual webbing of disparagement and “I told you so” tones.
One has to wonder how life would have been for other 27-year-old artists who found themselves gone to soon had they had to stomach the everlasting bellicose lights of squalid online “journalists” and a slobbering public ravenous for the scraps of excessive living: Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones…Amy Winehouse.
We have a choice as to how we remember young lights that’ve burned out too soon. Some of us choose to recall, sardonically and cynically, the drug use and abuse that led down this perhaps inescapable road. “I’m not surprised she’s dead,” is the siren call of the unimpressed. For others, we’ll remember a vulnerable voice that reflected the burning and concluding dimming of young light that so clearly lurked within.
“We only said goodbye with words,” she sang on “Back to Black.” “I died a hundred times, you go back to her and I go back to…black.”